Lukashenko says Berlusconi's visit to Minsk shows EU backing

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko described on Tuesday the visit of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to Minsk as a "gesture of support" for Belarus from the European Union.

Berlusconi, who arrived in the Belarusian capital on Monday to discuss economic cooperation with Lukashenko, is the first EU leader to visit the ex-Soviet state in recent years.

"Berlusconi's visit is certainly [a gesture of] support from the European Union. Leaning on such a powerful politician is a big deal," the Belarusian leader said.

Lukashenko said the global recession has lightly affected the Italian economy.

"Their bank system is well preserved, they have money to burn, and cooperation with us is advantageous for them," he said.

"Everybody would like to cooperate [with Belarus], but he [Berlusconi] was not frightened and arrived in Belarus," the president said. "I know the reaction of the others: Silvio has outstripped us. The others also want to work here. But who came first will obtain better conditions."

During the meeting in Minsk, the Belarusian and Italian leaders signed an agreement on economic cooperation. A range of other agreements, including in the tax, energy, and security spheres, were also signed by representatives of the two states.


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